The Giants’ offseason program is complete. Some questions have at least been partially answered, but plenty remain heading into training camp.
Here are the top questions the Giants will be keeping an eye on this summer.
*1. After Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate, who will the contributors be at wide receiver? *
OTAs proved there are options at wide receiver position after the two starters. Corey Coleman showed his explosive athletic ability, improved hands and had a better handle on the offense after arriving midseason last year. Russell Shepard is a vocal leader, contributor on special teams and a reliable pass-catcher. Cody Latimer is one of the best gunners on the team and has speed to get deep. Bennie Fowler had a great spring after getting in great shape this offseason. He has reliable hands and profiles as a dependable possession receiver that contributes on special teams. Then there’s rookie Darius Slayton, who after struggling through drops at the start of the offseason, proved to be a fast, explosive playmaker who got consistent separation and rarely dropped the ball.
“Darius has done a really good job,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “I think he is the most improved in my eyes. We expected a lot out of him when he got here. The rookie minicamp was unremarkable, but since that time… He is very fast. He is practicing punts and kicks. He has done a nice job playing receiver. I really think he has done a nice job during OTAs and minicamp.”
The Giants are not going to keep seven receivers. The coaches have to decide how important special teams play will be at this position and how much and how soon they can trust a rookie like Slayton. The good news is there will be tough decisions when putting the wide receiver corps together.
*2. What will the cornerback depth chart look like? *
Much like wide receiver, there will be decisions to make at cornerback. After Janoris Jenkins, there is not a lot of experience at the position. First-round pick DeAndre Baker has emerged as a potential starter next to Jenkins, despite the fact that offseason workout rules prevented him from being physical with wide receivers.
“I feel like that is probably his strongest point -- being able to press up on guys and just straight lock them down,” said Slayton, who faced Baker in college. “You’ve got space and there are a lot of other factors that go into it, but it’s just man-on-man when it is up there on the line. So I think when he has a chance to be able mix it up, I think you’ll see his best ball.”
Grant Haley, a 2018 undrafted rookie free agent who started as the nickel slot cornerback in the second half of last season, is one of the group’s more experienced players. He is competing with rookie Julian Love, a fourth-round pick out of Notre Dame.
Behind Jenkins and Baker are two more players without an NFL snap between them: 2019 sixth-round pick Corey Ballentine and 2018 third-round supplemental pick Sam Beal, who is back from a shoulder injury that cost him his rookie season. Beal began the spring with the starters before swapping spots with Baker during the second week of practice. Fourth-year veteran and accomplished gunner Antonio Hamilton, first-year man Henre Tolliver, second-year vet Ronald Zamort and fifth-year player Tony Lippett, finally healthy off an ACL tear, make up the rest of the group.
*3. Will the Giants’ outside pass rush be a consistent force? *
With no pads and no live contact allowed at the line of scrimmage, it is impossible to evaluate line play during OTAs and mandatory minicamp. The answer to this question is going to have to wait until training camp when the linemen are going to be able to hit each other and play something resembling real football.
Oshane Ximines was the most productive edge rusher in the spring, but he was working against the third offensive line group. Camp will also give the team an opportunity to see how much progress Lorenzo Carter has made entering his second year and whether Markus Golden can regain the form he had in 2016 with double-digit sacks.
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher is confident the group is capable of contributing to an improved unit. “I believe we can and that will reveal itself when we get to training camp,” he said. “When we get pads on and things start happening live and there are 50-50 downs. Everyone wants to rush well on third down. It is all those 50-50 downs that are 50 percent run, 50 percent pass. That makes up the larger portions of the game. That is when you have to find out how good guys are as rushers. You won’t know that until you put pads on. It is run one snap, then it is the play-action pass. The ability to disrupt the pocket on those downs will be important.”
*4. What will the starting offensive line look like and how well will it play? *
Nate Solder returns at left tackle and Will Hernandez at left guard. Offseason acquisition Kevin Zeitler will start at right guard. Mike Remmers, who is close to being fully recovered from offseason back surgery, should be ready for camp and will compete with third-year tackle Chad Wheeler at right tackle. Jon Halapio and Spencer Pulley, who split reps with the first group in the spring, will have an open competition at center.
This is the second season of Dave Gettleman’s renovation of the offensive line, and the hope is that many of the right pieces are falling into place to make the group more consistent than previous iterations.
“I think we are ahead of last year because we are a year into the system,” offensive line coach Hal Hunter said. “They understand the fundamentals and the system more. It is not just five guys, it is who you are playing next to. Nate (Solder) and Will (Hernandez) are starting to get much more in sync than they were last year. We are back with two quality centers competing. Pio (Halapio) is back in the lineup, so he and Spencer (Pulley) will compete at that one. You have to love Zeitler. He is a tough, hard nose guy. He brings a real toughness. He is all business. Just be careful when you shake his hand.”
5. How quickly is Daniel Jones progressing?
Jones began the spring as the third team quarterback getting only a handful of reps with the second unit at the first OTA. By the 10th OTA, he was taking nearly every single snap with second group, with Alex Tanney sliding back into the third group. Jones can make all the NFL throws and was accurate on his deep balls down the field.
“He’s got a downfield focus,” head coach Pat Shurmur said “Most often you’ve got downfield routes and you have outlets and check downs, most concepts involve that. He’s got a downfield focus and he’s trying to get a feel for his targets and he’s trying to give them a chance down field and I think that’s good. That’s part of what’s going to help him be successful early.”
Jones rarely looked overwhelmed, and the game did not look like it was moving too fast for him. By the last OTA, he was moving defenders with his eyes to create space for completions.
“Fortunately for Daniel, he is extremely intelligent,” Shurmur added. “His head is swimming much less than most rookies for a couple reasons. He’s very smart, he was coached extremely well in college, he’s been around it. He’s been coached by one of the best in college. He understands the process. Again, we call it a cat, they call it a dog, it doesn’t matter. He’s been around the process enough to know. (He’s) very perceptive, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. There’s a lot of things he’s doing out there for the first time. Every once in a while, if you are aggressive, a mistake will happen. He’ll come back in, fix it and the next time he runs that play, he will do it properly. It’s different for all players, when it starts to slow down and the game starts to make sense. Very certain that it’s going to make sense to him very quickly.”
Jones’ next significant test will come in preseason games when he has to do what he did in the spring against a live pass rush and unfamiliar defenses.